Marcus’s MA04 Candidate Profile: Jesse Mermell [OPINION]
Jesse Mermell’s call to public service was inspired by her grandmother, a nurse in WWII. Like battlefield medicine, Mermell has been taking a swift and tactful approach in healing the sores of injustice. After shadowing the mayor of a small community in New York as a young girl – an arrangement made by her grandmother – Mermell embarked on a lifetime of civic engagement to empower those who are underrepresented in our democratic processes.
As a student at Boston College, Mermell volunteered regularly in Brookline, ran for town meeting, was elected to the Trustees of the Brookline Public Library and co-chaired the progressive organization Brookline Pax.
Mermell then became the youngest person elected to the select board in Brookline. It’s there where Mermell was engaged in the day-to-day aspects of governance such as constituent services. She also worked on bigger picture policies such as codifying an updated climate action plan, banning plastic bags and styrofoam, and establishing Climate Week to raise awareness of and educate people on the issue of climate change. Mermell then served as Communications Director for Governor Deval Patrick. During her time with the Patrick Administration, Mermell led the Strong Women Strong Families initiative.
Mermell has also been on the frontline of causes to correct inequities for the people that systems neglect to accommodate. As Executive Director of FairTest, Mermell worked to de-emphasize standardized testing and implement a more inclusive model for education. As Director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Mermell helped ensure visually impaired seniors had a safe and independent home environment. As Director of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and the Vice President for External Affairs at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, Mermell fought to expand sex education in public school and include birth control coverage in the Affordable Care Act. As President of the Alliance for Business Leadership, Mermell fought for workers' rights and equitable investments in transportation.
Mermell’s endorsements include Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Former Massachusetts First Lady Diane Patrick, Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, Lawerence Mayor Dan Rivera, Rep. Carolyn Dykema, Former Rep. Frank Smizik, Easton Select Board Chair Dottie Fulginiti, Mansfield Select Board Vice Chair Michael Trowbridge, Hopkington Selectman Irfan Nasrullah, Brookline Selectwoman Heather Hamilton, Needham School Committee Member Sue Necks, Newton Dems Chair Shawn Fitzgibbons, Hopkington Dems Chair Darlene Hayes, Education Advocate Julie Johnson, National Women’s Rights Activist Barbra Lee, Her Time, Massachusetts State Council of Machinists, and many members of the Brookline Town Meeting Delegation.
1. Why did you decide to run for Congress?
“I’m running for Congress because the people of the Fourth District deserve a Congresswoman who will not only fight back against the hate and backward thinking coming from the White House, but will also fight for the future that everyone in the Fourth District deserves. And I’ve built a 20-year career as a progressive fighter doing just that: as a leader at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, as a member of the Brookline Select Board, as a senior advisor to Governor Deval Patrick’s Administration, and as president of the progressive business organization the Alliance for Business Leadership.
I got into this race to continue my work to build a fair economy for everyone in the Fourth District. And now, the issues that we have centered our campaign on from the start are being thrown into stark relief due to the coronavirus. We need an economy that works for everyone, affordable and accessible health care, and a leader with a steady hand who can take on, lead and win on the fights that matter most to the people of this district. These are the fights I’ve taken on – and won – throughout my 20-year career, and I’m ready to do the same in Congress.”
2. How has your campaign adapted to the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic?
“I’m proud of our team’s success in adapting and meeting voters where they are during this crisis. We quickly converted our scheduled campaign headquarters opening with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley in March to a virtual event. We’ve also held virtual Community Conversations with leaders from across the district about critical issues including mental health, protecting vulnerable communities like the incarcerated, supporting working families, and conversations with students across the district on the issues they face. We have more of these conversations scheduled in the weeks to come.
Our team also created a COVID-19 resource bank, amplified direct relief organizations and how to support them, and brought some levity to these difficult times by creating campaign coloring pages, crossword puzzles, bingo, and a bloopers reel.
Before the crisis, we had been out in every community in the district, meeting voters in person and collecting signatures to get on the ballot. When we switched to a virtual campaign, we launched an aggressive peer-to-peer signature collecting operation using the mail and phone banking. I’m proud that we have collected enough signatures to earn our place on the ballot.”
3. What experiences and qualities do you have that separate yourself from the other candidates in the race?
“I’m the only candidate in this race with both the professional and lived experience to represent this entire district – south to north. I've lived in Brookline for more than 20 years now, but I grew up in a small farming town in Northeastern Pennsylvania called Honesdale. Industries that fueled the region’s economy for generations have died – coal, dairy, then paper. I witnessed first-hand the struggles of my friends and neighbors, who lost their jobs and were pushed to the brink trying to make ends meet. And I saw the strain that those tough economic times put on my father, a small business owner.
Back in Honesdale, even in a world before the coronavirus, the economy never felt fair. This feeling is not unfamiliar to so many communities in the Fourth District, like Fall River and Taunton. While dairy and coal and paper might not be fishing and textiles and jewelry and the other industries that long fueled growth in the Fourth District, the lived experience is the same. And it is this shared experience that will make me a better representative for this entire district – south to north.”
4. What do you think is the most important issue facing the country today and how do we address it?
“My number one priority for Massachusetts and the nation is to create a fair economy that works for everyone. For too long, our economy has been designed to benefit those with the most wealth at the expense of working people, causing deep inequality. You see it on display in the Fourth District where communities in the north like Brookline, Newton and Wellesley were experiencing economic boom times before this crisis while communities in the south like Fall River, Taunton, and Attleboro have much lower median household incomes.
And you see it in this crisis, low-income Americans and people of color are being disproportionately harmed because of our long-term systemic failures. The first stimulus package gave huge relief for corporations, but just a one-time, $1,200 check for average Americans. That is not enough.
As we rebuild from the lasting effects of this COVID crisis and the recession, I’m determined to lead the charge to build an economy that works for everyone. That means a national Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and investments in housing, transportation, and infrastructure. I’ve been leading on these issues for 20 years here in Massachusetts, and I am energized to go to Washington to fight for a recovery that lifts up our communities.”
5. What is one of your favorite features of MA-4 District?
“I’ve never failed to be impressed by the resiliency and compassion of the people of the Fourth District. And we’ve seen the very best of it through this crisis. We have some of the most prestigious hospitals in the nation that are fueled by the work of selfless nurses, doctors, first responders and staff. We have major manufacturers like Merrow and Matouck in Fall River who are stepping up and converting their operations to produce protective equipment for our frontline workers. We have incredible teachers who are going above and beyond to provide a virtual curriculum and lifting their students' spirits by organizing drive-by parades. Communities from Sharon to Attleboro are organizing drive-through donation sites for local food banks. And so many people are stepping up to check in on their friends and neighbors, particularly those who are the most vulnerable. I’m inspired by the resiliency of the people of the Fourth District, and I will be so proud to represent them in Congress.”
To learn more about Mermell's campaign visit jessemermell.com.
Marcus Ferro is an attorney practicing in New Bedford and a weekly contributor to The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.